Let’s see if you can relate to this:
Two beautiful and bright children (I’m their mother, of course I think that) are running around the house – they want to be independent until they don’t. In moments of rushing and time crunches, one lapses into slow-motion, while the other thinks we’re playing tag – any ability to hustle is gone. When they feel like it, they will insist on doing things by themselves, often taking 7 times longer to accomplish the task at hand. I’m left shaking my head, while still scrambling. I wonder out loud why won’t the older one get dressed on her own today, but insists on spreading the jam on her toast? What to do about the little one who wants to keep up with the big one, and insists on trying to dress herself, but stops half-way, getting distracted by something and sitting down to focus on that, and then puts on her clothes backwards, upside down and inside out? Both of them spill something and are happy to clean up after themselves. It’s enough to provoke exasperation and laughing out-loud all at the same time. I’ll admit that exasperation dominates during my morning weekday rush.
Just at the moment – the turning point when I find that my voice has gotten louder in an attempt to get their attention and redirect their focus, I find myself thinking about what’s really going on here. I see undertones of self-directed learning happening, filtering through at home. I see my kids choosing when they want to practice a skill, when they want to demonstrate that they’ve mastered it, and when they’re being lazy because they’ve got this one “down pat”. And I pause for just a moment longer – or often I later reflect – and I consider how evident it is that my children are actively learning at the Montessori Jewish Day School.
The practical life skills component of the curriculum teaches invaluable lessons to children of any age. As a parent of toddler & CASA students, I marvel at the way that the practical life skills advance through the years and are incorporated well into the Middle School. So impressive is this pillar of Montessori education that I need not look any further for proof of the “whole package” when it comes to justifying independent/private schooling at MJDS. As well, I don’t ever wish that my kids were given “worksheets” to colour and practice at home, or workbooks to bring home for homework – because our home lifestyle and routine is “homework” enough for them.
Whether they are attempting to polish silver or glass, grind coffee beans, readily wipe up after a spill or sporadically break out in reciting a Bracha, there is an excitement that my kids bring home with them about being able to independently exercise practical life skills. I observe the same enthusiasm for the other subjects taught at school too – I see it in the work that they bring home each week, or in the brief summary of their day I get in the car ride home.
With Pesach around the corner, these practical life skills are most appropriate to recognize and appreciate. Our kids are being taught about how our ancestors were slaves in Egypt – my daughter has been singing “avadim hayinu” for days on end now. And when she gets to the part in the song of “atah b’nei chorin” – “now we are children of freedom”, I cannot help but consider a strong connection with the pursuit of independence. Freedom means learning how to be independent, and being independent requires self-direction, and the consolidation of practical life skills. It’s seamless.
So this year, as we prepare for Pesach at home, and celebrate at our seder, we will encourage our kids to apply all of their impressive skills – and to be honest, I hope they’ll be agreeable and cooperate. Luckily, we’ll have 8 days to see what happens!